Thanks to Athens, Georgia guitarist/composer Dan Nettles and his ever-changing Kenosha Kid ensembles, residents of the city best known for new wave, college, alternative, and indie rock can get a local taste of the sort of boundary-leaping creative jazz most listeners identify with the big-city scenes of places like Brooklyn, Seattle, and the San Francisco Bay Area. But given Nettles' penchant for documenting Kenosha Kid in every conceivable digital and non-digital format, you needn't live in or near the Classic City to sample what the Kid has to offer, including the project's fourth studio outing, Inside Voices, released independently by Nettles in early 2015 -- with a companion album, Outside Choices, arriving in September 2017. Prior to Inside Voices, Nettles and his Kenosha Kid collaborators devoted their studio time to scores composed for silent films and live theater, but -- aside from revisiting "Vanishing Point" from the group's 2005 debut, Projector -- this time the music is completely its own raison d’être. Inside Voices finds the guitarist leading a new core trio featuring bassist Robby Handley and drummer Marlon Patton, supplemented by some familiar collaborators, trumpeter Jacob Wick, alto saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, and tenor and baritone saxophonist Greg Sinibaldi, all three of whom have been heard on previous Kenosha Kid studio albums and helped give a record like 2008's Steamboat Bill Jr. a lot of its punch.
This "trio plus horn section" incarnation of Kenosha Kid brings a particular edge to Nettles' music, emphasized on Inside Voices via the bite of Wick's trumpet, the entwining sax riffage, the focused kick of the rhythm section, and Nettles' often effects-laden guitar at center stage. One need only contrast the earlier version of the aforementioned "Vanishing Point" -- one of Nettles' emotionally resonant "goodbye songs" -- with the rendition heard here to grasp the guitarist's current m.o. On Projector, "Vanishing Point" began with an intro feature for warm and sonorous acoustic bass, with accordion prominent in the tune's mix, while on Inside Voices the arrangement begins with an underpinning of Nettles' spacy looping and builds from a foundation no less lyrical and melodic -- the theme is really quite memorable -- into a far more powerful finale in which Patton thrashes over the top of a closing vamp with abandon. Inside Voices is nevertheless subtle in its own way, exemplified by the dusty, loping country-blues-tinged Americana of "Liberty Bell" and the atmospheric layering and tricky meter of "Fabrication," which recalls "Future Fauna" from the 2008 Todd Sickafoose album Tiny Resistors. The groove is deep and measured under Nettles' spiraling loops on "Map of the Universe," but the album also rocks out with the twangy, appropriately off-kilter romp of "Zombie Party," teetering between woozy and sprightly, and ratchets up the tight funk quotient on "Mushmouth." So, Nettles wrings ample variety from what might be considered Kenosha Kid's most "conventional" sextet format yet, in a concise package that whetted the appetite for the second installment to come.